New Study Warns Against ‘Reforming’ Toxic Substances Act

New Study Warns Against ‘Reforming’ Toxic Substances Act
April 6, 2012

Bonner R. Cohen

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position... (read full bio)

Efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act could end up harming human health by stifling innovation and keeping perfectly safe and beneficial products from reaching consumers, concludes a just-released study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Changes Would Stifle Innovation

“Changes to TSCA are highly unlikely to have any measurable positive effect on public health, given the scant evidence that the trace-level substances that TSCA regulates have any significant health impacts,” said Angela Logomasini, director of risk studies at CEI, in a press release accompanying the study.“Rather, a stronger TSCA law may harm human well-being by leading to bans on many valuable products, undermining innovation, and diverting resources from valuable enterprises to meet burdensome regulatory mandates.”

TCSA Balances Costs, Benefits

Enacted in 1976, TSCA is designed to regulate chemicals not covered by other environmental statutes. TSCA also differs from other environmental laws in setting a risk-based standard for allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate chemicals.  

TSCA “also demands that the agency consider both cost-benefit considerations and potentially adverse outcomes of its regulatory actions,” noted Logomasini. “Under TSCA, EPA is allowed to regulate when the agency finds that a chemical poses ‘an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.’ Once that determination has been made, EPA must apply such restrictions ‘to the extent necessary to protect adequately against such risk, using the least burdensome requirements.’”

Precise Language Drives Success

The CEI study, “The Real Meaning of TSCA ‘Modernization’: The Shift from Science-based Standards to Over-Precaution,” warns “reforming” TSCA may transform the law into the antithesis of what it was created to do.

Because TSCA has a risk-based approach to regulation, the carefully crafted language of TSCA has generally avoided creating controversies like those that have surrounded the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other more loosely worded laws. Weakening the statute’s scientific safeguards could bestow EPA with far-reaching discretionary power to regulate as it sees fit, the study warns, which will dramatically change the intended nature of the law. 

“Contrary to many claims,” the study explains, “the EPA has managed to use [the TSCA] to impose thousands of regulations, collect substantial data under both mandatory and voluntary programs, and demand testing of chemicals.”  

Activists Seek Presumption of Guilt

Ironically, it is the clear and carefully tailored language of the TSCA that has frustrated environmental activists and prompted them to pressure the Obama administration to call for “modernizing” the statute. Richard Dennison of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), for example, advocates a “presumed guilty until proven innocent” approach to a restructured TSCA. 

On the legislative front, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced a bill in 2009 to, in his words, “put the burden of chemical safety where it belongs: on the chemical companies.” Lautenberg’s bill was not enacted, but that hasn’t kept environmental activists from urging Congress to scrap TSCA’s current risk-based standard for a more speculative “precautionary” approach. 

“Some would model the new rule after the ‘reasonable certainty of no harm’ standard set in the Food Quality Protection Act, which has produced a host of unnecessary bans and regulations on valuable products that are used to ensure affordable food production and control of dangerous pests,” Logomasini explained.

Where Is the Need?

“Where is the evidence that we, the people, need to be protected from environmental exposure to tiny amounts of chemicals?” asks Gilbert Ross, M.D., medical director of the New York-based American Council for Science and Health. 

“The cries for ‘reform’ emanate from the same environmental activist groups that oppose so many other beneficial chemicals and technologies,” Ross continued. “These well-funded groups, whose raison d’etre is to foment regulation and litigation, say the law is creaking at age 36, and only a handful of chemicals have been regulated under its auspices. Talk about circular logic—the chemicals assessed have been found to be safe, so they say something must be wrong with the law!”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. (bcohen@nationalcenter.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. 

Internet Info:

Angela Logomasini, “The Real Meaning of TSCA ‘Modernization’: The Shift from Science-based Standards to Over-Precaution,” March 2012, http://news.heartland.org/sites/default/files/toxics_logomasini_march_2012.pdf

Bonner R. Cohen

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position... (read full bio)